In Practice: Shelley Schoepflin Sanders, M.D., FACP

Shelley Sanders

Providence profiles Shelley Schoepflin, M.D., FACP, a primary care provider and residency program faculty member, whose work on a hospital early warning system gained national attention.

Implemented Providence's modified early warning system to monitor inpatients' vitals; named an innovation adviser to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services; profiled in Fast Company magazine

Past lives
Medical degree, University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry; chief resident, Providence St. Vincent Medical Center; Master of Theological Studies, Vanderbilt University

What gave you the idea to implement the modified early warning system, or MEWS?
My wonderful boss, Dr. Steve Freer, invited me to look for a project that could reduce mortality at Providence St. Vincent Medical Center. As part of my research, I came upon the system, which had been implemented at several Australian hospitals. I learned that rapid response team nurse Deb Gabel had already started working toward putting MEWS in place here, so the two of us teamed up to get the project off the ground.

How does it work?
MEWS works as a safety net, watching and scoring a patient's vital signs in real time and sending a text message to the rapid response team and charge nurses if the patient's condition worsens. It helps us catch things such as heart arrhythmias, severe infections and postoperative bleeding early so we can take action quickly.

Has it improved outcomes?
We've found that on units using MEWS (the medical and surgical floors) mortality is down by about 15 percent. That's about five lives a month.

Where is it implemented?
MEWS is active at Providence St. Vincent Medical Center, Providence Portland Medical Center and many of the other 27 Providence ministries across five states. As far as we know, ours is one of the only electronic systems. Other institutions require nurses to calculate the vital sign scores by hand on paper.

You studied theology, so what drew you to medicine?
I have always believed that human beings are at our best when we integrate mind, body and spirit. As a little girl I knew I wanted to follow my dad's footsteps and become a physician. I'm drawn to the pragmatic problem-solving of medicine, which is much different than the tantalizing intellectual world of theory and theology. But I had an opportunity to study with one of my favorite theologians, Sallie McFague, at Vanderbilt University so I was able to defer my medical school enrollment for a year to complete my master's degree in theology.

What keeps your mind spinning at night?
Our newest project is the Accountable Care Unit at Providence St. Vincent. We're revolutionizing patient care by assigning doctors to a single unit so they can meet with patients, families and nurses at the bedside at a scheduled time to review the plan for that day. So far our patients love it, and so do nurses.

If you weren't a physician, what would you be?
My aptitude test in eighth grade said I would make a great forest ranger. Go figure. I do love nature, and windsurfing in the Columbia Gorge is my favorite Zen activity.

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